Brattleboro, Windham County
My name is Junie Pereira, and I live right now in Brattleboro. I used to live right downtown in Brattleboro, but I just moved to the outskirts right on the edge of the Brattleboro border and the woods. I'm a special education teacher at Brattleboro Middle School; I work with Seventh and Eighth Graders who are either emotionally disturbed or intellectually disabled, or a combination thereof
What is your ethnic background?
I was born in Aruba. Aruba is part of the Netherlands Antilles; it is right off the coast of Venezuela. It has its share of immigrants from all over, so it's a very diverse island. My ethnic background from my father's side is Sephardic Jews from Portugal, and then my mother's Dutch and Spanish and African descent, so all of those and God knows what else. I just spent two years in Trinidad, just prior to coming here three years ago, and my wife and I had to leave town for awhile. It was getting to me after being here so long, so we went and took the family, and worked two years abroad.
When did you first come to Brattleboro?
Brattleboro was, well, 1996, but I was here in Westminster West—I arrived in Vermont in 1990, but I first rented a place in Brattleboro in 1996, which is the year that one of my sons was born. Why did you choose to come to Vermont? I worked here before, and my ex-wife's family is from Vermont. We met in college. I went to college in New Jersey, got my graduate degree, then I went to Maine, lived in Maine for a year, then went back to Aruba, worked for the government there for three years, and my ex-wife got really homesick and wanted to come back to Vermont. At that point, we had two kids, and we came, and that's when we settled, in 1990, in Westminster West. But we got divorced since, and we went our separate ways, and I ended up back here in Brattleboro.
Was there something in particular about Brattleboro that attracted you to come to Brattleboro, specifically?
Brattleboro is a great little town. It's safe, the people were very open-minded, and there were a lot of fun things going on, educationally. I was very involved in the educational development of new curricula, new ideas. It was a great way to experiment, new educational ideas and initiatives, so that was one of the main draws for me. It was good. It's a good place, and I raised all my kids here. It was a good place to raise kids. It still is. It really still is.
Do you have a community of people here who share your identities?
Nobody from Aruba or the islands, Curaçao, Bonaire, but having grown up in Aruba, and having some Dutch connections, I know Dutch, it's my second language, really. There's some Dutch people around. Aruba's very peculiar, in that sense. It has a Dutch colonial history, it has a South American/Central American cultural history, so a lot of people, everybody speaks Spanish, and I've travelled quite a bit in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, so I know the culture, and there's always somebody from that part of the world that I can identify with. In terms of cultural kinship, I know people from Venezuela, Columbia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, and once in awhile we hang out and we run into each other, and also some Dutch people that I know, but I don't see them very often. To get my cultural fix, I usually go to the city.
How have other Vermonters welcomed you?
Very well! It's, you know, very interesting, in the sense that they're curious where you're from, they're curious to get to know you. As you know, there are not many minorities here in Vermont, but the people of Vermont were very welcoming and very curious about who you are as a person, and that's also a sense, that's something I didn't feel elsewhere, as much, even in more urban areas, like New York or New Jersey, but I did feel that sense of welcome here in Vermont.
What do you like best about living in Vermont?
I have very liberal leanings, and I feel that a lot of people do here, and I'm pretty politically aware and involved, and so a lot of people with similar mindsets, that helps. Anywhere, if you spend enough time there, you have a sense of belonging; it's my home, now. I know so many people in town, and have made many friends and connections, and that's the main draw at this point.
Would I live somewhere else? At this point, I would say no. It's fairly close to major city hubs, like Boston and New York. I have a son who now lives in New York, I go there frequently to visit, and Boston, we do easy day trips. You have Montreal, up north, which is always fun; you really get a sense that you're going to a different country. So, in those moments when I feel like I'm starting to develop the need, I tend to get out, so that helps. Vermont is a great place. The seasons are beautiful. This past fall was absolutely gorgeous. Winters are my toughest time; being an island boy, it's tough, you know, but you dress for it, you do things in it, depending on how you feel, and it's not so bad. There's a lot of people concerned about global warming and the state of affairs right now. That social network that you can draw upon and find support, it's very important right now.
What challenges do you face, living in Vermont? On a personal level, that lack of diversity running into people, and I always feel that, when I go to a more diverse setting, that "Yeah! This is the world!" when you go to Boston or New York, or around the world, and hear different languages. I do miss that. That's a challenge for me. Would I trade it at this point? No. If I was younger? Maybe, but at this point, I wouldn't change that.
I've never experienced racism, in the outward, overt sense. People are aware enough not to be really overt about it, but I'm sure there are very subtle ways that it exists whenever they see me, or when I go anywhere, but the way I deal with it, whenever I have a suspicion, is that I try to engage with whoever it is I have that suspicion of, to break that barrier.
I was on the board of Vermont Partnership for awhile for exactly that reason, becoming more involved on a larger scale, and that's been good. You develop a radar of how people are perceiving you. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but I see that as a constant; it's not going to change anytime soon, but I've always taken on a personal—it's not a challenge, per se, but a personal duty—to engage with people, when I suspect there are racial, or whatever, issues going on. I try not to be a silent or passive bystander, when it comes to that stuff.
How would you describe your quality of life, here in Vermont? I would say very, very good. I feel very fortunate to have a job. I feel very fortunate to have a beautiful place to live. As a teacher, there's never enough money to the things I want to do, but that is not the driving force for me. If money was an issue for me, I would never have become a teacher. But the quality of life I think is very, very good. When I look at the environment, when I look at the social dynamics around me, when I look at the awareness of people, I wouldn't trade it for anything, right now.
What advice would you give to other people who share your identities who are considering coming to Vermont?
You have to patient. If you're moving, and that is wherever you're moving to, whether you're Black, Asian, Hispanic, White, whenever you're moving to a new place, you have to give yourself three to five years, before getting a sense of whether you feel like you can make a home there, and my experience with other friends who have tried to move is that they didn't give it enough time. Two years is not enough.
I had my doubts that I could make Vermont my home, but because of my family situation, I didn't want to uproot them again. I stuck it out, and it's the best decision I've ever made. It's a great place. It's really fun, it's beautiful. Summers are absolutely gorgeous. It's a beautiful state. I love it. I love Vermont. It has a lot to offer for me.
Now, everybody's different. I think, if you are a person who is very dependent on an urban environment or you need lots of people around you all the time, you need to busy all the time, this may not be the right place; you need to have not only the right mentality, but you need to have the right attitude, I guess, when you're delving into an adventure moving here. But, I would highly recommend it to anybody, especially minority people, because there are so many opportunities here that go untapped. I have several friends now who are software engineers, who work out of their house, and they've come here, made a home here, and are very happy.
It's a different experience than an urban experience, let's put it that way. There's lots of things that I don't have to deal with, such as traffic, crime, just the sheer number of people, the busyness. For me, that defines my quality of life.
Is there anything else you'd like to say about your experience of living in Vermont?
Having been here, off and on, for almost 30 years, it's changing. I see it changing for the better. There is a genuine attempt by different organisations, like educational, medical, and local organizations, that are really trying to be aware of making Vermont a more diverse state because they see the benefit of that. I would highly recommend looking into moving to Vermont. The opportunities abound, if you are young. It also depends on the profession, because it's such a small state, it has it's limitations, but the way I see things going, with technology and technological fields, there's lots of oppontunities here for Vermont to be your home.